Sunday, 11 August 2019

Tonbridge parkrun

Tonbridge is a historic market town in Kent. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as Tonebridge and was known for centuries after as Tunbridge. The origin of the name is not certain, but it is thought to have come from either; an estate, manor or farm (Tun) with a bridge, a bridge belonging to Tunna (an Anglo Saxon name), or simply a contraction of 'town of bridges' owing to the high number of streams the high street would have crossed.

Following much confusion with the newer spa town of Tunbridge Wells, in 1870 the post office had the name of the town changed from Tunbridge to Tonbridge. Even with the change, the pronunciation stayed the same [Tun-brij] which continues to this day. The wider borough of Tonbridge and Malling has a population of around 40,000 people.

tonbridge

One of the main features of the town is the motte-and-bailey castle, Tonbridge Castle. The original wooden structure was built by Richard Fitz Gilbert who had been awarded 176 Lordships following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The current Gatehouse was commissioned by Richard's descendant Richard de Clare. It took 30 years to build and was completed in 1260. Tonbridge is also famous for its public boys' school Tonbridge School, which dates back to 1553.

The town also features a public park, Tonbridge Racecourse Sportsground, which is just off the High Street. It sits on land which was used for horse racing for a period of 23 years from 1851 until 1874. The park covers 69 acres and has facilities such as sports pitches, a playground, and mini-golf. Next door is Tonbridge Swimming Pool which has indoor and outdoor pools (they are linked, so you can easily transfer between the two without getting out of the water).

briefing / start

The park became home to Tonbridge parkrun on 9 November 2013, and I attended that very first event. Since that date, the original course has been modified, so almost 6 years after writing my original blog, I popped back over to see how things are going and to write this update. The first thing to note is that the event has grown. A lot. On any given week, you would have to expect the number of attendees to top 500, but this seems to be increasing to 600 with a handful of occasions being over 700.

The meeting point for the event is just inside the park, next to the River Medway, opposite the swimming pool. For those arriving by car, there is a car park at the swimming pool called 'Lower Castle Field Car Park', but given the numbers of people attending, it will probably fill up long before 9am. The closest alternative is just a few hundred metres away outside Tonbridge Castle and this is 'Upper Castle Field Car Park'. Current fees are £1.30 for an hour, £2.30 for two, or £3.10 for three.

opening stretch

If taking the train, Tonbridge Station is only a short walk away from the park. For any cyclists, there are fences around the park which will come in handy for securing a bicycle. There are also some bike racks outside the swimming pool. There are a few options for toilets - the swimming pool has some, also there are some more within the park less than 50 metres from the start area, and there are also some just next to the old Tonbridge Fire Station which is next to the Castle.

The course is run on an out-and-back lollipop-style route. The start section is of course in the park, but this event has a lot more to offer than just the park! It's a flat course and underfoot you will find mostly tarmac paths, but some are a little muddy/splashy when the weather turns. It's absolutely fine for buggy running too. The initial footpath is way too narrow to accommodate the entire field of participants so there is quite a wide spread of people across the grass as the course meanders along next to the river.

cycle route / bridges

It's not long before the route crosses the first of seven different river crossings which takes you into the other side of the park. There is a mini out-and-back here, which feeds the participants onto Cycle Route 12 - this links Tonbridge via a mostly-traffic-free route to the village of Penshurst, which, incidentally, is where you'll find Kingdom parkrun (my venue blog). The majority of Tonbridge parkrun is on this cycle route, so keep an eye out for cyclists.

The course then leaves the park by passing under the railway line (watch your head if you're tall) and heads onto the tree-lined path that leads towards Haysden Country Park. The path eventually opens out to a decent width, however the next few bridge crossings are essentially single file, so things may get a little congested at points depending on your position in the field. Keep an eye out for the World War Two pill box nestled inside the bushes.

haysden country park / barden lake

After crossing Lucifer Bridge (concentrate on your footing, it can be a tiny bit slippery) and Little Lucifer Bridge, there's another section through woodland as you enter Haysden Country Park, and as you cross the seventh bridge, the glorious sight of Barden Lake comes into view. The lake itself is not a natural feature - it is the result of a sand and gravel extraction pit which was in operation during the 1970s and 1980s. If the regular route is being used, you complete a full lap of the lake before heading back. However there is a 'B' route which has a turnaround point halfway around the lake.

The remainder of the 5k is just a simple case of re-tracing your footsteps all the way back over all the bridges (making it 14 crossings in total), under the train line, along the mini-out-and-back and back around to the original meeting point, which has now become the finish. It's worth noting that depending on where you are in the field you may have two-way runners/walkers on some of those single-file bridges. This will mostly affect those towards the front and back of the field.

bridges / a view / cycle route

Personal barcodes and finishing tokens are scanned right next to the finish, and with over 500 participants you may have to be patient in a queue, but that's just a perfect opportunity to chat to fellow parkrunners, isn't it? The post-event coffee takes place in the Swimming Pool Cafe, but there's no way that it'll accommodate everybody. Fear not, Tonbridge High Street has a nice selection of cafes (both big brands and independent) and also a Wetherspoons in case you need an alternative.

I recorded the route on my Garmin and you can view the GPS data via my Strava account. You can also see a Relive course fly-by video on my YouTube channel. Also, a few years ago, we made a video of the course - it was filmed using just our mobile phones, and I think it worked out pretty well considering. The results for event 300 were published shortly after and 462 people took part - slightly down on a regular week probably due to the forecast for strong, gusty winds. Finally, a big thanks to all of the volunteers without whom the event couldn't happen.

approaching the finish [left and bottom right photos: scott wishart]

Related Links:



Sunday, 4 August 2019

Walmer and Deal Seafront parkrun

The towns of Walmer and Deal are found on the east coast of Kent. Although technically separate they are contiguous and indeed share many amenities. They have a combined population of around 40,000 people with Deal, the larger of the two, being home to around three-quarters of this figure. The towns are fairly residential and their seafronts are picturesque and quite natural in character.

The two towns, together with Sandown to the north, sit in a strategically important place, as just six miles off the coast lies the 16km long sandbank called Goodwin Sands. Sitting right next to The Dover Strait (the busiest shipping lane in the world) has lead to it becoming notorious for claiming sea vessels that sail too close. Over the years around 2,000 ships have become wrecked here. The area between the sandbank and the coastline is called The Downs and, maintaining the delicate balance of nature, this provides ships safe refuge from bad weather.

walmer castle / julius caesar etc...

These features also contributed to this stretch of coast being an ideal place to land a ship. In fact, Walmer is said to be the place where Julius Caesar landed in 55BC and 54BC. The ease of landing ships here meant it was a high risk as an entry point for an invading army, and with poor relations with both France and the Holy Roman Empire, King Henry VIII ordered the building of a chain of defensive Device Forts at strategic places around the south of England.

A line of three stone forts (castles) with earthwork defences and Bulwarts in between was constructed in around 1539-1541. Deal Castle was the largest of these with Walmer Castle and Sandown Castle making up the trio. Together they were known as the Castles of the Downs, and while Deal and Walmer Castles are intact, Sandown suffered from coastal erosion followed by being partially demolished for its stone and is now effectively a ruin that has been incorporated into the local sea defences.

walmer and deal seafront parkrun

We visited the towns on 3 August 2019 to take part in the 48th running of Walmer and Deal Seafront parkrun. The official course page directs visitors to park in the Kingsdown Road car park (free of charge) which is conveniently placed right next to the toilets (open from 7am) at the southern end of the course - from here it's a kilometre on-foot along the seafront to the start/finish area. For the record, the roads immediately adjacent to the start/finish do not have any parking restrictions.

If traveling by train, both Walmer Station and Deal Station are around 2km from the start, so take your pick as to which one you alight at. Although if you need to visit the toilets, you may find that Deal Station is the better option as a second set of toilets are available for use on Marine Road (also open from 7am), which is en-route. I couldn't see any cycle racks at the start but there is a barrier/fence alongside the road that all the parkrunning cyclists were using.

start area / opening section

The 5k event started on 15 September 2018 and attracts around 200 participants each Saturday morning (at time of writing, the official current average is 195.1). The course is effectively an out-and-back along the seafront (no surprise there given the event's name!) but the start/finish is in the middle rather than at the end of the out-and-back, so you head 1.5km out-and-back to the north and then 1km out-and-back to the south.  Underfoot is tarmac and the course is flat.

Starting at Walmer Green adjacent to the road called The Beach, the route heads to the north towards Deal with the stony beach to the right and grassy lawns to the left. The path is of a fairly regular width with a designated cycle path running along one side of it. It's worth keeping an eye out for the benches which could pose a hazard during the opening section as they take up a bit of space on the path. After just a hundred metres or so, take a glance to your left where you may see the commemorative stone marking the approximate location of Julius Caesar's landing point.

deal castle / timeball tower

The cycle path seemed to be fairly busy when we visited, so take great care if close to it and avoid running in it - this can be difficult until the field spreads out, but try to be patient as a collision with a cyclist is not desirable for either party or the volunteers. You soon pass The Downs Sailing Club which is opposite the post-run cafe 'The Sea Cafe'.

These are followed by the RNLI Walmer Lifeboat Station and the bandstand. If a lifeboat needs to launch you may find the parkrun route gets diverted mid-run, so pay attention to the marshals! Before you know it, Deal Castle comes into view - it has a keep with six inner and outer bastions, plus a dry moat. As you reach the castle you officially cross into Deal.

deal pier / embracing the sea statue

Continuing northwards past the fishing boats moored on the beach, you now find yourself running alongside the road rather than being flanked by the pleasant lawns. The next landmark to look out for is the Deal Timeball Tower, a four-storey white building facing the sea. The timeball is connected by electronic signal to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Since 1855 it has been dropped at 1pm every day, giving ships' navigators an accurate time reading by which to set their instruments. Of course these days, the navigators will have modern methods of timekeeping and navigation, so it's really just a tourist attraction. During the summer (tourist season) the ball is dropped on the hour throughout the day.

Deal Pier marks the turnaround point at the northern end of the course and this is gracefully handled in the form of a loop around a 10ft tall bronze statue called 'Embracing the Sea' which features a man in a boat lifting a fish from the water. The pier itself is the third in the town's history. The first having been destroyed by a storm and the second purposefully destroyed during the Second World War as an anti-invasion measure. The current pier with its 1960s-style concrete design, opened in 1957 by Prince Philip, is 1026ft long and has a three-tiered pier head.

heading back towards walmer

The course now heads back southwards back along the same route and if it's a clear day you stand a really good chance of seeing the coast of France just over 20 miles away. Once past the original start point, the course continues further into Walmer where the paths splits into two very distinct sections to separate the pedestrians from the cyclists. This end is much quieter and has no real landmarks until you reach the southern tip of the course which is just past the Kingsdown Road car park.

At the turnaround point you may just be able to see the top of Walmer Castle through the trees on the opposite side of the road. Walmer Castle is the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, which in modern times is a ceremonial post. Over the years it has been held by politicians including William Pitt the Younger and Sir Winston Churchill, and by royalty such as King Henry VIII, Prince George (King George V) and The Queen Mother. It's also worth noting that this stretch of the course crosses the cycle path twice, so listen out for any instructions given by the marshals as you approach.

the walmer out-and-back

All that's left to do now is head back to the start/finish area. There's one section where the route briefly follows a different path but you are soon filtered back onto the main one. With the 5k complete, barcodes are scanned adjacent to the finish and then its over to The Sea Cafe for breakfast etc. I had the vegan breakfast which was nice, but for some reason they put butter on the toast which was disappointing.

We followed this with a lovely day out in the town, where we visited Deal Castle (my daughter managed to run into a historic cannon and spent the rest of the day with a golf ball-sized lump on her forehead - other than that she was fine), watched the timeball drop - the ball rises half-way at five-to the hour, rises all the way to the top 2 minutes later and then slowly drops precisely on the hour. We also walked to the end of the pier, had some sorbet on the beach and generally just relaxed while enjoying the atmosphere and the sun.

finish area / cafe

The results for event 48 were published shortly after the event and 228 people took part. I can confirm that the course is quick in good conditions, but as with all seafront venues, your time may suffer if there's a strong wind coming off the sea. The full GPS course data can be found on my Strava account and the relive course video can be found on YouTube. Finally, a huge thanks to all the brilliant volunteers.

Related Links:



Saturday, 20 July 2019

Cyclopark parkrun

In North Kent you will find the ancient town of Gravesend which has a population of around 75,000 people. The town was first recorded as Gravesham in the 1086 Domesday Book but was also recorded as Gravesende / Gravesend just a few years later. In 1974 the original name of Gravesham was formally adopted as the name of the borough. The town sits on the north coast of Kent and has a defensive fort which was built on the orders on Henry VIII in the 16th century.

The oldest surviving building is Milton Chantry and this dates back to the 14th century. Gravesend is also famous for being the final resting place of Pocahontas - she died in Gravesend and was buried at St George's Church in the town centre. The exact position of her grave is unknown due to the original church having been rebuilt in the 18th century following a fire. However she is commemorated in the form of a bronze statue within the grounds of the church.

cyclopark / pocahontas

The southern end of the town is bordered by the A2 motorway which broadly follows the old Roman road, known as Watling Street. In 2008 the road was widened and at the same time, moved ever so slightly to the south. This created an empty strip of land between the existing houses and the new road, the majority has been given back to nature but some of the tarmac from the old A2 has been retained as a pedestrian walkway and National Cycle Route 177.

A 48 hectare area of the reclaimed land has been developed into a purpose-built cycling facility called Cyclopark. The main feature is the beautifully smooth tarmac track which undulates and weaves its way around the site, but it also has off-road mountain biking trails, a BMX track and a skate park. Also on-site is a children's playground and various fitness suites. I've visited the Cyclopark many times over the years and have ridden both the road and off-road cycle tracks (more about my running-related visits below).

start

On 20 July 2019 Cyclopark parkrun came into existence and while I would love to tell you that it takes place on the track itself, sadly it doesn't. Cyclopark parkrun takes place on the aforementioned pedestrian footpath / cycle route which runs alongside the park. However, the Cyclopark does support the event and provides all the facilities such as toilets, cafe and car parking.

There is a charge for car parking and this is paid via a machine just inside the main reception area (you can pay upon arrival or at departure), if it is busy you may find the staff on the reception desk can process the payment for you. Alternatively, it may be worth investigating the possibility of parking next door in Morrisons for free (rumour is that there is a two-hour time limit, with an £85 fine for overstaying). There is also a Travelodge next door which is super-convenient for anyone planning an overnight stay.

opening section

You'll be pleased, but not surprised, to hear that Cyclopark has cycle racks galore, so travelling by bicycle is the perfect option. The National Cycle Route 177 which runs alongside the park stretches right back into Dartford (via NCR1) to the west and into Rochester to the east. I've ridden this route a number of times over the years and found it to be pretty good. For anyone travelling by train you'll find the closest station is Gravesend and is just under 2 miles away.

We took part in the inaugural event, but it was not the first time I had run the course. I was invited over to the test event by the co-event director Ian Pullen. Ian was one of the first people I met when I moved to Dartford in 2013, we were probably drawn together by our common love of buggy running. In fact we once had a collision with our running buggies as we ran alongside each other one evening (the kids were both fine).

national cycle network / high five from friends

As I mentioned above, the parkrun takes place on the adjacent cycle path. Underfoot is 100% tarmac - some of it is fairly old as it is the original surface of the old A2 but it has held up pretty well over the years. The 5k is covered by effectively running a double out-and-back, but as it stands the start/finish area is not quite at the end of the out-and-back (see GPS and video for what I mean). Even though you are next to the A2, the landscaping does a good job of reducing the traffic noise.

It has a gentle but prolonged change of elevation all the way along the length of it, with the lowest point being at the far western end where there is also a very convenient loop in the path to turn around at. It is easy to underestimate the effort required to negotiate the gentle uphill part of the course and this may bite you towards the end of the second lap. Interestingly the elevation change recorded on my Garmin came out at 46 metres, which is more than I was expecting.

the course (out)

It's also worth noting some details regarding the start - the first part of the course is a 300 metre out and back to the east which results in the entire field performing a 180 turn while still heavily bunched up on a fairly standard width path. There is also a pinch point just outside the entrance of Cyclopark which is worth being aware of. Other than that, you just need to remember to stay to the left as you make your way around the course.

The course doesn't really require a lot of marshals or signs but you'll find both placed at strategic points as you work your way long it. Also don't forget that you are on a cycle route, so keep your eyes peeled for cyclists who could approach quite quickly from behind on the downhill part. You may also encounter the odd dog walker as it's quite a popular walking route for them.

the course

At the end of the 5k, barcodes are scanned just outside the rear of the Cyclopark, and once everyone has made their way around the course the team head into the Cyclopark Cafe. Over the years the cafe has been Cyclocafe, then 'Cafe 1809' which was Dame Kelly Holmes' venture into the cafe world (named after her bib number in the Athens Olympics). It is now called 'park EAT' and serves all the coffee shop staple items you would expect.

The results were soon processed and 172 people attended the event. As it is early days it is impossible to know exactly how many people this event will attract on a regular basis. One of the big hopes is that it will help to ease the pressure on the increasingly popular Shorne Woods parkrun which is just a few minutes down the road. If you have kids with you there is a nice playground onsite, however Cyclopark charge £3 per family group to use it.

turnaround point / finish

If you have visited and find yourself a little disappointed that you didn't get to run on the Cyclopark track, there are a number of opportunities to do so at other events. Firstly there is the free, weekly Cyclorun at 8am every Sunday which was originally set up in January 2014 by a man called Steve Cable. It is now run by my former running club SLGR and offers 2.5k, 5k, 7.5k and 10k options. Incidentally I used Cyclorun for my one-and-only true attempt at a 5k time-trial buggy run where I managed to put in a sub-20 time.

If that doesn't take your fancy there is the Gravesend Floodlit Winter Series which takes place once a month for 6 months between October and March. This is run by the excellent chaps over at Nice Work and is very much a local favourite as a midweek leg-stretcher. It has both 5k and 10k options available and I raced it twice - November 2014 and December 2014. The Kent Roadrunner Marathon has traditionally taken place at Cyclopark and it involved running something like seventeen laps on the track, but sadly this event seems to have disappeared from the calendar.

post event

There have been a few other events that I have taken part in here - Sweatshop held an afternoon of relay races here back in 2014 which was brilliant, but ended up being a one-off event. You'll also find a festive Santa Dash during December - at time of writing this is being organised by Nice Work. Also back in 2014, there was a three-part race on the mountain bike trails called The Rocky Road Trail Race Series. I only managed to make to one of them, but was in pretty decent shape and managed to win it.

Anyway, you can view my GPS data of the course on my Strava account, here: Cyclorun parkrun 1. You can watch the course fly-by video generated using the Relive app on my YouTube account, here: Cyclopark parkrun fly-by video. A huge thank you and congratulations to Ian, Louise and the rest of the team for getting the event set up. I hope it's a great success!

Related Links:




Sunday, 14 July 2019

Uckfield parkrun

Uckfield is a town in East Sussex with a population of around 15,000 people. The source of its name is not 100% certain but is thought to be named after a person called Ucca who may have owned the open land, which in Old English would have been known as a Feld.

Another theory is that Uck is a derivation of the ancient Celtic word for water or a stream with the fedd part meaning high or height. There is evidence of Stone Age settlements at this location dating back to around 9,000BC. However, the first written evidence of the name of the town is from the 13th century where it was called Uckefeld but may have also been spelt Uccafield or Uccafedd.

uckfield

The town is centred around the crossing-point over the River Uck and would have once been a popular stop-over place for pilgrims travelling between places like Canterbury and Chichester. Having a river with such a name has lead to many instances of vandalism to the river name signs on the bridge (the addition of an F for anyone that hasn't realised!), so they came up with a specially shaped sign in an attempt to thwart the vandalists (see photo above).

In the north-east corner of the town is Uckfield Rugby Club which has been active in the Sussex Rugby Football Union since 1967. Since 4 May 2019 the rugby club grounds have been home to Uckfield parkrun and we visited the town for the 11th running of the event. If we had taken the train we could have easily alighted at Uckfield Station which is the terminus of the line from London Bridge, that would have left us with just under 2km to walk (uphill) to reach the rugby club.

pre-event / start

However we drove the car to the venue and parked for free in the rugby club car park, which does fill up even with the addition of some pitch-side grass parking. The official advice is that additional parking can be found at Uckfield College which is just under a kilometre away, however the nearby side streets didn't appear to have any restrictions. I didn't spot any bespoke cycle racks, but I'm sure there would be no issue in finding a post or fence to secure a bike to. Toilet facilities are available for use inside the club house.

Uckfield parkrun takes place on an out-and-back-with-loop-at-the-end off-road course so while road shoes were fine for when we visited during a nice dry, sunny period in July this will be full trail shoe territory when the winter comes around. Some people may even go for spikes, but I'd check with the organising team first to make sure they are allowed.

first kilometre

The first section is a nice, easy lap around the rugby fields and this ensures that the participants are nicely spread out before heading into the surrounding countryside towards the neighbouring village of Buxted where some of the paths can be a little narrower.

The course meanders through a section of woodland before going through a single-file path through some long grasses before turning a corner and entering the grounds of Buxted Park which is a private country estate that happens to have some public footpaths running through it. It also happens to be a deer park dating back to 1199. While on the subject of animals, it is possible that you may see deer and/or cows during the event - we didn't see either but did see plenty of evidence suggesting cows had been around recently.

buxted park lake etc...

Heading further into the country estate you'll pass the lake covered in lily pads which is said to be home to some exotic birds (I didn't spot any), you'll even cross a couple of small bridges - note that one has a significant step at each end. Then there are the views across the beautiful countryside - simply stunning, especially as you head along the long straight section. Towards the end of the out section there is an WW2 Pill Box which would have dated from 1940/41 - it is obscured from view by trees and bushes so you probably won't see it.

The total elevation change came out at 45m on my Garmin, but the majority of the course is largely flat. Most of this elevation is tackled during the loop at the far end of the course - the big plus point is that you get even higher up which just makes the view even better! During the loop you will see the centrepiece of the estate which is the grade II listed mansion - the current building was originally built in 1725 but has had modifications since then.

the long out section and the pill box

Interestingly, the village of Buxted used to be next to the mansion, but just over 200 years ago, the then owner Lord Liverpool persuaded the villagers to move a mile down the road in order to enlarge his grounds and improve his countryside views. The only remaining building from the original village is the 13th century St Margaret's Church which is just visible through the trees.

The mansion has been visited by many dignitaries over the years and both Queen Victoria and King George V are known to have stayed here. The mansion was bought by the owner of Twickenham Film Studios in the 1960s and is reported to have hosted many of his celebrity friends here including Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck. It was then sold to the ruler of Abu Dhabi in the early 1970s. It is now a 44 room luxury hotel and known as Buxted Park Hotel.

the loop / buxted park mansion

Sorry.. back to the parkrun. Once you've passed the mansion you eventually start heading back downhill where you can really take in the view once more. Before rounding things off, I should mention that the underfoot surface throughout the course can be rather uneven in places and there were plenty of pot-holes, so remember to also have an eye on the ground to avoid twisting an ankle.

The uneven ground made running with the buggy particularly challenging (and resulted in a very bumpy ride for my son), but it was totally doable in the dry. I would imagine buggy running here in the winter could present too much of a challenge for some.

views during the loop

Before you know it you rejoin the familiar path which you follow all the way back past the pill box, along the long straight section, back over the bridges and past the ponds. Then you leave the Buxted Park private estate and head back through the long grass, through the woodland and emerge adjacent to the rugby club where a short sharp jaunt up the bank will bring you back up onto the smooth rugby ground grass and finally into the finish funnel.

It would have been so easy to take a wrong turn or get lost on the course, but it was painstakingly marked out with so much attention to detail to ensure that nobody did. The set-up team have quite a job on their hands every Saturday making sure everything is set out properly, so deserve a serious pat-on-the-back for their efforts. It was also wonderfully marshalled with the reassuring sight of the parkrun hi-vis at regular intervals.

heading back / bridge with step / long grasses

Post-event the team head into the rugby clubhouse for refreshments, which we sadly could not partake in as we had arrangements back in Dartford. The results were soon processed and 256 people completed the course at event 11, which is not too far off the current official average of 231. I recorded the GPS data of the course with my Garmin and you can view it here; Strava: Uckfield parkrun GPS data. For a bit of a visual, you can view the Relive course fly-by video here; YouTube: Uckfield parkrun Relive Video.

into the finish / post-event

Finally, a huge thanks to all the volunteers for making us feel so welcome. You'll know already, but you have a truly wonderful parkrun venue here.

Related links:



Sunday, 7 July 2019

Jersey Farm parkrun

It would be impossible for me to write a blog about Jersey Farm parkrun without first giving mention to Heartwood Forest parkrun (my blog) which was the original parkrun venue in Sandridge, Hertfordshire. I visited the village back in September 2017 and really enjoyed the run which took place through the hundreds of thousands of saplings which are currently growing in the newly created forest. Sadly the following summer it was announced that the event could not continue to take place at Heartwood Forest and the search for a new venue began.

As it worked out, the team didn't have to look too far for an alternative, as less than a kilometre away from the original venue is another area suitable for a parkrun, and this is of course Jersey Farm Woodland Park. When the announcement came that this was to be the new venue, the parkrun touring community got very excited indeed as it meant that those wishing to become 'alphabeteers' could now 'get their J' without leaving the mainland.

jersey farm woodland park

The 55 acre park which is home Jersey Farm parkrun was formerly part of the estate owned by the founders of the neighbouring village of Marshalswick. As the name suggests, the land's previous role was as a farm, but historically it was called Evans Farm, and covered 309 acres. In the 1930s a well-known tuberculosis researcher, Dr Corner took over the farm and renamed it Jersey Farm after his heard of Jersey Cattle.

The original farmland was eventually sold with much of it being developed into housing, and Jersey Farm is now a residential neighbourhood within the civil parish of Sandridge. During the redevelopment, proposals were submitted to transform the area of the country park into a school sports field with accompanying floodlights etc. This proposal was fought and won by the local 'Major Open Spaces Preservation Association' (MOSPA) and the land was subsequently turned in the country park.

start / finish area

The first tree was planted in 1991 by the Mayor of St. Albans and during the years leading up to the Millennium a total of around 10,000 native trees were planted by volunteers from the local community. The park is not entirely woodland and there are large sections of open meadows which are rich with long grasses and wildflowers, providing the perfect habitat for many species of animals and insects. The most endearing of these is probably the Skylark, which nests within the long grass.

We visited Jersey Farm parkrun on 6 July 2019 and took part in event number 34. The woodland park itself does not have any facilities at all, including parking. I found the best place to park was in the free car park at Sandridge Village Hall which comes with the added bonus of having public toilets (this the same car park I used when I visited Heartwood Forest). Finding the country park from the centre of the village is the next task...

start / opening section

There are many entry points into the park, but from the main road in the village they are not easily identifiable. We entered via the entry point at Highfield Road but due to the nature of the landscape, it's not totally obvious where the start area is. So if approaching from the village I would stay on the main road for a little longer and use the entry point at St. Helier Road instead where the main path will lead you right into the meeting area which is on open grass at the highest point of the park. If you approach from the southern side of the country park, the entrance on Sandringham Crescent leads directly into the meeting area.

If you were trying to reach the venue by public transport, the closest train station is St Albans City, but that is still about 2 miles away. The Jersey Farm parkrun Course Page advises that there are some bus services (304 / 305 / 657) that will help complete the journey, if required. If cycling there are no proper cycle racks on-site, but you may be able to find a fence or post to secure it to. Incidentally there are some cycle racks at the Village Hall car park, but they are not that convenient unless you plan to go to the post-event coffee venue afterwards, in which case it could be a decent option.

bridleway / outer-loop

There are a couple of different course options used here, both run in a clockwise direction. The summer route essentially has a mini-loop followed by two slightly different laps whereas the winter route is run on two identical laps which avoid the more sensitive inner areas. Either way you'll find the course is very well marked out with marshals in all the right places. The start was in a slightly different position to usual when we visited so as not to disturb the nesting Skylarks.

The venue's terrain is of the off-road variety, so while road shoes were fine for when we visited, you will certainly be looking at using trail shoes during the winter or following other particularly wet periods. As far as the elevation is concerned this an undulating course with the ups and downs generally being fairly gentle, but frequent with very little flat ground. My Garmin recorded a total elevation gain of 59 metres.

inner-loop

The outer-loop (used for both summer and winter courses) is run on a fairly narrow bridleway so you'll need to keep an eye out for horses. It spends most of its time meandering through the different woodland plantations and these generally take their names from their relative compass position from the centre of the park, EG West Plantation, North Plantation etc. However one of them is called Bill's Wood - This is named after Bill Morris who formed the aforementioned MOSPA without whom this beautiful park would not exist.

 As we were running on the summer course, at the end of the outer-lap we transferred to the inner-lap. This is run next to and through the open meadows which cover the central areas of the park. There was a particularly memorable section where the grasses had grown so long that there was barely any path to follow - fortunately there were some cones placed along here to help lead the way through. My daughter loved running through that section and I have a feeling my son enjoyed being pushed through even though I annoyed him by trying to keep the grass out of his face.

inner-loop

It's worth looking out for the view at the northern end of the course where you can see across to St. Leonard's Church down in the centre of the village. It is partially built from recycled Roman brick, possibly from the stockpile held by the abbots of St. Albans, and is thought to be almost a thousand years old. Also look out for the Burma Star Association memorial stone which is just alongside the course at the southern end of the park.

There is a section that is used on both laps so you may find yourself lapping or being lapped by others. It gets as narrow as a single file path at times so be mindful of your fellow runners and walkers during this part. This leads into the final part of both laps which is uphill on a gravelly/stony section of path. I was pushing a buggy and had my daughter with me so we pretty much walked it on both laps, but I imagine it would be a bit of a slog at the end of a decent hard effort.

towards the end of the lap

The finish is found back up on the open grass at the top of the park and barcode scanning all takes place right next to the finish line. The team then move down into the village for post-event coffee - the official webpage says this will be either the Heartwood Tearooms or The Potting Shed. We had other arrangements so after letting the kids have a quick play in the playground next to the car park, we headed back home.

The results soon came through and 183 people had participated in the day's event. This was almost spot on the official average number which as of 7 July 2019 stands at 180.2. This number is of course boosted due to the large number of parkrun tourists ticking of their J, but the venue is truly fantastic and deserves recognition for being much more than just another letter on somebody's list.

finish area

You can view my GPS data of the course we ran on the day via my Strava account, just bear in mind the start was slightly adjusted for the Skylarks so it may be slightly different at future events. Plus you can see the Relive course fly-by video which I have uploaded onto YouTube.

Related links:





Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...